As a toddler, our first experience with solid food is either rejection or acceptance. Culturally, what we eat on a daily basis is considered normal. As children and young adults, the food prepared and served at the dinner table is considered normal and traditional. The same concept applies to foreign dishes. Each country or region utilizes their most abundant resources. Combining local food resources, creativity, and cultural influences establishes ethnic cuisine. Tradition is carried from one generation to the next.
Considering these factors, one is more amenable to divulging in what is considered out of the ordinary. Peculiar sounding dishes may result in satisfactory surprises. When considering venturing out to ethnic cuisine, keep an open mind. If allergic responses to food is not a concern, one may venture out and discover new and exciting experiences—without limitations. One of the benefits to eating ethnic food is that many dishes are healthy and low in calories. Authentic ethnic cuisine utilizes fresh herbs. For example, North African cuisine encompasses dishes made with fresh herbs and spices (cinnamon, cumin, saffron, parsley, etc.) fruits (raisins, lemon, kumquats, etc.) and lentils.
At first, many dishes may not look appealing. For example, “pasteles” are traditional in Puerto Rico, especially during the holiday season. At first glance, one may quickly judge the appearance, discriminate and walk away. Stop for a moment. Take one bite. You may be surprised. Pasteles are made from platanos (plantains) or bananas and appear as a soft textured dough. Depending on the mixture used for the base (dough), pasteles may appear brown or yellow. For some the texture is not appealing. Yet, it is a dish created with intense labor and love. Hidden inside the formed “masa” (dough), taste buds heighten with the essence of divinely seasoned warm meat, potatoes, and Spanish olives.
Before judging what is not familiar, take the opportunity to venture and experience. Venturing out to an ethnic restaurant may present the opportunity to experience an unfamiliar neighborhood, unfamiliar sounds, the people and culture.
Consider your ethnic hour by supporting a local ethnic restaurant in the Nashville area. Immerse yourself in the experience—breath in the sounds. If possible, read about the culture and food beforehand. Similar to the human race, food offers diverse personalities and tastes. Before judging what is unfamiliar, get to know your food-mates. Who knows…you may fall in love… when you least expect it.